Ask The Headhunter®

the insider's edge on job search & hiring™
June 23, 2009
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This week's Q&A

Why HR should report to PR


While many companies take pride in how they interact with the professional community from which they recruit, others are clueless about the damage human resources (HR) departments inflict on their corporate image and reputation.

Sometimes a reader's question reveals what's wrong with America's employment system. This is one such story. After spending enormous sums on public relations (PR) to create a positive corporate image, does this company's board of directors have any idea that HR is trashing that PR effort? Do hiring managers at this company have any idea how HR treats the professional community from which those managers need to recruit people?

My guess is no and no. The board thinks HR is handling human resources, but it’s also in the business of public relations. As an important interface to the company’s professional community, HR’s staffers are in a position to inflict serious damage to the corporate image. Maybe HR should report to PR just so there’s some oversight of HR’s behavior out in the real world.

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A couple of years ago I found a "contract" position with Company A. I had just moved into the area and I was willing to work on contract until I established myself and learned about the corporate landscape.

The interview with Company A went well, but the contract position never materialized due to funding constraints. So I accepted an offer for a permanent position with Company B.

Fast forward to 2009. Company A now has a permanent position that I'm very interested in. I contacted Ms. Hiring Manager and she said she would be very glad to talk with me, as I definitely have the skills they are looking for. So far so good, right? She said someone would call me to set up an in-person interview. Instead, I got a surprise phone interview under the pretense of setting the appointment.

A call came from Company A's HR person in the middle of my work day and it went like this:

"Hi, this is Ms. HR from Company A. Is this a good time?"

Expecting a quick conversation to make an appointment with Ms. Hiring Manager, I leap from my desk to a quiet place where I can talk.

Ms. HR: "I want to make an appointment for you to come in and talk with Ms. Hiring Manager."

Me: "Great. When would be a good time for Ms. Hiring Manager to meet?"

Ms. HR: "Well, first I need to be sure you are qualified for the position."

Me: "I've already spoken with Ms. Hiring Manager about the position, and she said you would call and make an appointment for us."

Ms. HR: "Well, I don't want to waste Ms Hiring Manager's time." [Me, silently, "Wha...? Okaayyy."]

Ms. HR: "I see you applied for a contract position with us before."

Me: "Yes, I did. That's why I contacted Ms. Hiring Manager when I saw that a permanent position was open with your company."

Ms. HR: "Well, are you ready to make a commitment to a permanent position [snarky tone] since you applied for a contract position last time?" [She does not allow me to get a word in edgewise.] I see you have had other contract positions. We want someone who will stay with us and make a commitment!"

Me: "Isn't the position I discussed with Ms. Hiring Manager permanent?"

Ms. HR: "Yes, but you have had a lot of contract positions."

Me: "My last three jobs over five years have been permanent positions. As for the contracts, you do know what's been going on in the IT industry and the economy the last few years, right? Due to financial pressure, many companies are hiring contractors. I took the job that was available."

Ms. HR: [Interrupting and in a loud voice.] "We need to be sure you are ready to make a commitment to a job." [She asked about this not once, not twice, but four times.]

Me: "I applied for a permanent position, so that is what I am looking for."

Ms. HR: [Changing approach.] "What salary do you expect for this job?"

Me: "I don't generally discuss salary until I have a better feel for the job responsibilities and benefits."

Ms. HR: "I need to know what you want so you are not wasting Ms. Hiring Manager's time. We can't bring you in here if you want too much money!"

Me: " I'd rather discuss that with the hiring manager." [We go back and forth. She insists in an increasingly nasty tone that I tell her how much I want.]

Ms. HR: "Okay, so what are you making now?"

Me: "My compensation is confidential. I can't disclose that information. It's covered under a non-disclosure agreement."

Ms. HR: "In all my years of working in HR I have never heard anyone say that salary is covered under a confidentiality agreement!" [Raises voice with a nasty tone.] "Never, never! I've never heard of that!"

Me: "Well, it is covered under an NDA. Perhaps you have never worked with anyone from Company X [a Fortune 50 company] before, but that's its policy."

Finally, I realize she has just called me a liar after springing a phone interview on me with no warning and then verbally abusing me. Whoa!?

Me: "Your company is not a good fit for me. Thank you for your time. Goodbye!"

Generally speaking, I was a solid candidate for the job. But if this is an indication of the culture, the company is not a good candidate for me. I'd like to let the hiring manager know what happened, in case she doesn't know how HR is driving away good candidates. How do I say it to Ms. Hiring Manager, if at all?

Nick's Reply

Your story is worth this entire column and it makes a point all by itself. Please check the How to Say It feature for my advice (above and to the right).

While it's possible Ms. Hiring Manager used HR as a way to indirectly turn you down for an interview, I don't see any indication of that. What I see is an aggressive personnel jockey who needs a lot of training.

If you use my suggestion, Ms. Hiring Manager will ask what you're talking about. Don't get into it. Tell her that you will e-mail her your transcript of the call, and that if she wants to talk after she reads it, you'd welcome her call. When you send it, add a note that says, "I hope you and I can meet someday under different circumstances because I'm impressed with the way you present yourself. I did not produce this transcript for you — I wrote it up for a friend. But I think you will understand when you read it. I wish you the best — and I'm always glad to talk with you any time. I don't consider this experience any reflection of you. Kind regards..."

The point is to rattle HR's cage. You did the right thing. Take note: This approach may not be for everyone. But ask yourself, how would the board of directors respond if it were to hear that personnel jockey in action, representing her company to its professional community? Maybe the board would vote to put PR in charge of HR, to better oversee the company's reputation.


Nick Corcodilos
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Readers' Comments

The series on networking is dead on. A lot of new readers would benefit. I'm not sure when I first subscribed, but it was a number of years ago. You have the very best advice for this kind of subject matter, no matter what side of the fence people are on: hiring manager, HR, recruiter, job hunter, all of which I've done. As a recruiter, a standard part of my advice is to get on your website and subscribe, as well as digging around the archives.

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How to Say It

When a personnel jockey undermines the hiring manager

An enthusiastic and friendly Ms. Hiring Manager calls to say you have the skills she needs, and she wants to interview you. "Someone will call to set up the meeting." A personnel jockey calls and, rather than schedule a meeting, rakes you over the coals. You decide this company's culture is not for you. You want to call Ms. Hiring Manager because it seems she has no idea how HR is behaving. How do you tell Ms. Hiring Manager that a personnel jockey is undermining her? 

It's what we're discussing on The Blog. How to Say It: HR should report to PR.

How to Say It: "I enjoyed talking with you last week. Thanks for inviting me in for an interview. I was looking forward to meeting so we could discuss the job, but it's clear that's not going to happen. Someone from your HR department called me. It was a very disturbing call. I'm sorry to tell you this, but I believe it's important to be frank. As a result of that call, I'm not sure I'd consider a position with your company. Is your board of directors aware of how your HR staff portrays your company and how it treats job applicants?"

Let's help this reader out! Join me on The Blog: How do you think she should handle it?

Don't know How to Say It? Send me your quandary and we'll try to tackle it! (Please don't confuse this feature with Q&A topics, which are about advice. This is about how to say something.)


Readers' Forum

How long should a resume be?

Last week: A reader asked this age-old question and I received a flurry of comments and suggestions. Here's one that offers a bit of a twist on the traditional resume:

"One thing I've found that seems to work is to create an overview page that includes a two-column table that lists the job requirements on the left and the candidate's qualifications (and then some) on the right. This table helps answer the question, Can this person meet our needs (or what we think our needs are)? The second page is a brief standard resume that lists work experience, education, etc. — the info most hiring managers scan for."

I like that, especially the part about "and then some!" It reminds me of Put a Free Sample in Your Resume.

Got a topic? Something to get off your chest? Something on which you'd like input from other readers? Send it here.




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